lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cause and effect

"Most generally, causation is a relationship that holds between events, objects, variables or states of affairs. It is usually presumed that the cause chronologically precedes the effect. Finally, the existence of a causal relation suggests that- all other things being equal- if the cause occurs the effect will as well(or at least the probability of the effect occurring will increase)."

I won't blame you if you went cross-eyed reading that. I did. I have been trying to figure out causality and causation; they are not exactly same. It fascinates me though and I ponder the chicken and egg question or the seed and tree question quite often. What follows which, or is it the other way around, which follows what? If something hadn't occurred, could something else have happened?

My grandmother used to tell us a story about how the monkey got the drum and we suspended all logic and happily recited after her,

"Lost a thorn, got a knife, so I beat my drum.
Lost a knife, got a stick, so I beat my drum.
Lost a stick, got a pancake, so I beat my drum.
Lost a pancake, got a garland, so I beat my drum.
Lost a garland, got a bride, so I beat my drum.
Lost a bride, got a drum, so I beat my drum.
So I beat my drum. So I beat my drum,"

never stopping to consider the absurdity of the plot-line or asking inconvenient questions.

It was folklore, passed down the generations with embellishments in each telling, no doubt. But after the kind man removed the thorn from a monkey's paw, you just had to suspend disbelief to hear the argument: Give me my thorn. I threw it away. Give me my thorn back. But you saw me throw it away. Give me my thorn back. Exasperated, the man gives the monkey his knife, probably hoping it would stab itself with it. The sequence gets more absurd, what with the monkey ending up acquiring a bride.

Likewise, in nursery rhymes the absurdity of a series of events requires suspension of logic.

Anna Maria sat on the fire.
The fire was too hot; she sat on the pot.
The pot was too round; she sat on the ground.
The ground was too flat; she sat on the cat.
The cat ran away with Maria on her back.

In real life though, it is just about possible to work out what led to what. We can assign turning points and say that a particular event definitely changed the course of a life. I don't know which was the most important, but there were four things I can say caused my life to unfold and happen as it did.

Gather round, children, and I will tell you how it came about that I first spoke to the man who was to become my husband. All safe and snug? Here goes:

Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

Nehru married Kamala and begat Indira.

My cousin, either disgusted by the Emergency or wanting to be in the thick of things, quit his job as a journalist and went to Delhi. He was an audiophile. He teamed up with a buddy and they used to build speakers and companders and other esoteric audio equipment and bond over soldering irons and integrated circuits.

My mother liked cats and ran an open house for them. They came and went, using our house as base camp: food station, maternity ward and a place to interact with humans and get some petting. My father was easy-going and tolerated this as long as they left his library alone and didn't demand anything from him. So I grew up surrounded by cats being snooty to humans, and believe me, nobody can be as snooty as a cat.

We had this cat. She was all dappled ginger and brown, almost orange and green in her colouring; she was long-haired with a wondrous tail and a soft white belly, dotted with overworked teats as she was a fecund queen. She must have been called something, had another name, a call sign; but by the time I was a teenager, she was just Amma Pilli (translation: Mother Cat).

She liked her humans and did her best to humour them and educate them by bringing them stunned birds and half-dead mice to practice hunting with. She thought the safest place to have her litters was in the crook of our knees as we slept, as she wasn't allowed to stash them in the library. She just couldn't make my father see reason and gave up after half a dozen years of trying to train him.

Amma Pilli was a constant as I grew up and entered my teens. Always there, having litters like clockwork, teaching her broods to hunt in the semi-wilderness of the plot next-door. She treated her humans as a convenience. Humans make good nannies for kittens in a territory that abounded with toms trying to keep the population down.

Her progeny grew up doing the same. 1 SPM Street was a safe haven from territorial bullies. We had a dog who knew in his very bones that he was a creature of a lower order and deferred to the cats; I think he aspired to become a cat when he grew up. Our juvenile toms used to take on bigger and tougher toms on the strength of being able to streak to the safety of the dog, nestling between his huge paws and sneering at the challenger.

We had cats named after Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram and Charan Singh. They ended up being called Baddoo, Paratta and Chappanni, but the original names were in keeping with the spirit of '77. We had cats named after Nixon, famous or infamous writers. We had cats that wandered in and settled down. We had cats that I kept collecting as boys discovered that finding a stray cat and bringing it to college was the quickest way to make friends with me. Other girls got gifts of chocolate and flowers and cards. I got abandoned kittens.

Amma Pilli serenely went on being Amma Pilli. But at some point she stopped being fecund. I think the '77 triplets were her last litter. She was a two kitten mum, mostly. We got used to the rest of the lesser queens having litters, Amma Pilli sedately presiding over the cattery.

We got over the horror of her being run over by a cyclist, who came sobbing with her cradled in his arms saying, she just appeared, I swear, she just appeared. She seemed critically ill, perhaps with internal injuries, until the vet arrived. She then set the world record for the feline standing high jump while scratching the holder and the hundred meter dash, when the vet tried to examine her. When we got her back for the vet to examine her further, he said our fears about her possible demise were greatly exaggerated.

She grew indolent and took to stealing. She kept getting at the milk. Our doctor(of him I will blog another time) suggested that we check if she lost her teeth. Oh, yes, she had. She didn't get the run of the food shelves, but she did get consideration. She was a venerable elder person. She got soft food, more milk and more idiotic and pathetic 'oh, Amma Pilli,' kind of hugs and petting than she could have wanted. After all there is a limit and some sense of decorum.

She took to gracing the kitchen, spending her days in a doze, all curled up on a cane footstool.

Those days, I used to start supper, whether rolling out rotis or setting up the idlis. It was idlis that night. I looked to see if Amma Pilli twitched an approving nostril as I slid the idlis off the stand. She didn't. She seemed fast asleep. She died in her sleep. There wasn't any wailing and beating of breasts, but we had a sombre meal that night.

My audiophile cousin had to be informed. I had a contact number for him. It wasn't until I dialled the number and had to open my mouth and speak that the enormity of the event hit me. Can I speak to my cousin, I asked, my voice breaking.

"He doesn't live here." A pleasant baritone informed me, adding in a laughing voice, "Though it does seem like that, most of the time. I can take a message, if you want to leave one."

"Tell him," I said and broke into sobs. "Tell him Amma Pilli is dead." I hung up and wept.

The next morning, my cousin called in a panic. How could she die, he demanded. She is only seventeen years old. Cats live much longer than that, he said wildly. As I gave him chapter and verse of the end, I could hear him saying in an impatient aside, "Yes, it is a cat; yes, she was crying about a cat; no, it wasn't my mother or aunt; yes, it was a cat. Do you mind, Kalyan, I am trying to find out details here."

My cousin invited me to go and stay with him to get over the grief. I did, and met the incredulous man who was astonished that the incoherently weeping message-bearer of bereavement was talking about a cat.

On second thoughts, the title of this post should have been "Hundred and second use of a dead cat".



Blogger Siva Sivaaa said...

Alright. Prologue is over. The play begins now. Lights off. Action. Start music ;-)

7:49 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

You HAVE read (uh, seen. Let's settle for 'seen') One Hundred And One Use of A Dead Cat? You have?

And Lali, you cannot leave it at this. You can't. Please? (I'm smiling a most angelic smile, most! )

10:46 pm  
Blogger Generally_Speaking said...

An example of Brownian Motion?

5:59 am  
Anonymous Badari Narayanan said...

Tell me where all this happened. I will keep a safe distance. Cats in the house, kitchen - ugh horrors!!!

9:20 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Siva, huh? That's all you are going to get.

Rimi, I do know about the book. You don't think I'd find it even remotely amusing, do you? :D

And, that's that, young woman, no matter how winsomely you smile

9:48 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Hullo, gen. I suppose that's one way of looking at it. All events can be described as examples of Brownian Motion, I suppose.

Keep visiting.

Hi Badari. This was in Madras, the house doesn't exist anymore, I think. You can go to T Nagar safely. :D

9:52 am  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Wonderful. Tell us more. And more about the cats, too. 'World record for the feline standing high jump'...LOL

10:38 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Rajesh, I will hold forth about the cats, no problem. :D

12:47 pm  
Blogger Generally_Speaking said...

Hi Lalita, thanks for your comment on my blog and pointing out that my email was not visible. Have rectified it and made it visible on my profile.
By the way, neglected to visit in my last comment that you have a cool blog.

6:10 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

:D Gen. "Thank you kindly, sir, she said."

Ever wonder why there are so many cat-oriented rhymes in Mother Goose collections? I haven't quoted even a tenth of the stuff.

10:14 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

I don't suppose you do. It's morbidly fascinating, says my friend. I just think it's morbid. An exercise of the imagination, certainly. Very commendable, I'm sure. But keep it away from me .

12:51 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Exactly! There are people who find the film A Fish Called Wanda funny, too. I suppose it takes all kinds to make the world, but they had best stay away from me. :D

8:43 am  
Anonymous swati said...

i met mine through a common pishi
pishi still alive

12:51 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Swati- Family has its uses, doesn't it? :D

Keep visiting.

9:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whats with Madras and cats, Matilda? My in-laws place seems a smaller version of what your place was!!

The whole family is bonkers about cats.....No wonder the daughter zeroed in on a big cat like me...grin

2:23 pm  

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